21 December, 2016

"Loving" Review (****½)

'Tell the judge I love my wife.' Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in "Loving."

Jeff Nichols shows a solemn, moving picture of Richard and Mildred Loving’s life together. Richard and Mildred Loving lived in Virginia in the 1950s. They loved each other immensely. They married in Washington D.C. shortly after discovering they were expecting a child.

Despite the marriage license—a binding legal document—cops entered their home in the middle of the night and put the Lovings in jail. Mildred spent five nights in jail; she was eight months pregnant. The law enforcement in their small country town prosecuted the Lovings because at the time, interracial marriages were against the law in Virginia. The judge forced them out of Virginia for the next 25 years, against the threat of a prison sentence.

The film spans from 1958 to 1967. The audience gets to see the racism the couple experienced from both sides. The movie isn’t violent; it focuses more on the psychological threat the family faced. Nichols said, "[Richard Loving] was a white man forced to live under the microscope of a black man." One of Richard’s friends in the movie says that Richard could just walk away from his family to escape the scrutiny, but Richard is strong and unwavering.

In hearing Nichols talk about his film, he mentions, "These aren’t characters; they’re real people." Mildred was a lovely woman and Nichols commented, "There’s an elegance to the way she approaches the world." The movie speaks volumes, but the characters say very little. Peggy Loving—the only surviving member of the Loving family—approved Nichols' script before the film went into production. The Lovings were private people. They didn’t even go to the Supreme Court hearing that brought them to prominence.

The film is well-acted. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga share uncanny resemblance to their characters and they do a wonderful job; the love between them is palpable. The most surprising performance was from Nick Kroll; he wasn’t goofy or a caricature. The cast was good, the directing was good. The acting is the film's strongest feature.

It is hard to believe that 50 years ago people like Halle Berry, Rashida Jones and Zendaya would have been considered products of illegal unions. Loving v. Virginia forever changed the United States. Mildred and Richard Loving are the quiet, unsung heroes that Jeff Nichols re-introduces to America decades later. In 1958, there were around 149,000 interracial couples in the US; today there are approximately 5.4 million. The Lovings' story should be foundational; it is an important part of American history.

With all the racially charged news and police brutality, one may think that Nichols has ulterior motives for releasing it now, but the movie is apolitical—there’s no agenda, just love. In my three word review, I call the movie solemn, subtle and sincere. You can feel the love emanating from the screen. "Loving" is a movie I believe everyone needs to see.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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